The Power of Future-Focused Teams in Product Development
Sep 19, 2023
Understanding the Product Roadmap
A crucial aspect of product development is prioritizing what to spend time and resources on. Product owners often face the challenge of balancing immediate problems that demand attention with the need to explore potentially bigger and more valuable ideas. This prioritization challenge is not exclusive to digital product management. As former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower famously said, "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." In the context of product development, it is essential to find the time and resources to discover and pursue innovative ideas that can drive long-term success.
Mapping the Product Portfolio
To achieve balance in a product portfolio, it is crucial to map out the work that is currently in progress. By visualizing the initiatives in play, teams can identify potential gaps and imbalances. One effective framework for plotting activities within a product portfolio is the Lean Enterprise innovation portfolio map. This framework categorizes initiatives into four gates: explore, exploit, sustain, and retire. This approach allows teams to track the progress of each initiative and make informed decisions about resource allocation and prioritization.
Another useful framework is the portfolio map from Stratygyzer, which plots initiatives in two quadrants: explore and exploit. Each quadrant has an axis for risk and return. This framework helps teams evaluate the potential risks and rewards associated with different initiatives and make strategic decisions accordingly. By using these frameworks or similar ones, product teams can gain a holistic view of their product portfolio and ensure that they are investing resources in a balanced and strategic manner.
The Three Key Activities of Future-Focused Teams
Future-focused teams engage in three key activities: exploring futures, improving features, and addressing product fixes. Each of these activities requires a different approach and mindset. Let's delve into each of these activities in more detail.
Exploring Futures: Finding the Next Big Idea
Companies known for bringing new products and services to market invest considerable effort in researching and developing their next big idea. The exploration of futures involves piloting multiple concepts and placing numerous bets to drive successful product innovation. During this phase, teams should focus on generating a wide range of ideas and testing them for desirability and viability. Techniques such as Google Venture-style Design Sprints, Wizard of Oz prototypes, and proposition testing can be valuable tools for exploring potential futures. It is important to emphasize that these exploration projects are learning opportunities, and success comes from identifying promising concepts to pursue and ruling out ideas that are not worth further investment.
To foster a culture of innovation, it is not necessary to create a separate innovation department or hire superstar designers. Instead, organizations can integrate innovation practices into their existing teams by providing coaching, immersion, and practice opportunities. Innovation is an exhausting process, so it is beneficial to rotate team members in and out of the exploration phase to allow for recuperation and fresh perspectives. This time-boxed approach also encourages rapid creation and concept testing, preventing over-engineering and excessive investment in a single solution.
Improving Features: Enhancing the Product
The feature team is responsible for the ongoing improvement of the product. Their role is to take a brief, design solutions to address specific problems, and deliver new features into the product interface. This team focuses on making incremental but significant changes to the product. The initiatives undertaken by the feature team should have well-defined problem statements and desired outcomes. A good brief allows for creativity and solution-oriented thinking.
To ensure the success of the feature team, regular critique sessions and early stakeholder involvement are essential. The team should pay attention to details such as layout, interactions, and copy, elevating the quality of the product through continuous refinement. Additionally, discussions on performance, accessibility, and success metrics should be integrated into project meetings. The feature team operates in a fast-changing environment, where the expectations of the audience and technological advancements require a nimble and flexible approach to delivery.
Addressing Fixes: Polishing the Product
Building trust with the audience is crucial for the success of any digital product. However, accumulated technical and design debt can erode trust and impede the user experience. The fixes team focuses on addressing bugs, maintenance, and enhancements to ensure the product remains polished and reliable. This team operates with a focus on velocity and autonomy, prioritizing bug fixes and production debt removal based on predefined criteria. The fixes team should be empowered to deploy solutions without the need for protracted discussions or meetings. While this work is vital, it should not be the sole focus of the team. It is essential to strike a balance between addressing fixes and pursuing new initiatives to avoid stagnation and maximize the potential of the product.
The Benefits of Rotating Teams
In the future-focused team model, rotation plays a crucial role in ensuring continuity and effective handover between activities. It is recommended that approximately 50% of the team members join and 50% remain in the team for each activity. This approach allows for a fresh perspective and prevents burnout. It also enables team members to gain exposure to different activities required for the development and maintenance of a digital product. The exact allocation of time for each activity will depend on the specific needs and setup of the organization. The key is to provide dedicated time for each activity to maintain a balanced and productive workflow.
The Power of Future-Focused Teams
Future-focused teams have a distinct advantage in the competitive digital landscape. By adopting a future-oriented mindset and balancing their efforts across exploring futures, improving features, and addressing fixes, these teams can drive innovation, maintain product quality, and stay ahead of the competition. The benefits extend not only to the product itself but also to the individual team members and the organization as a whole. Future-focused teams are more engaged, agile, and resilient, leading to higher performance and better outcomes.
In an era of rapid technological advancements and evolving customer expectations, the success of digital products relies on the ability of product teams to navigate the delicate balance between innovation and iteration. By adopting a future-focused mindset and organizing their work into three key activities – exploring futures, improving features, and addressing fixes – product teams can set themselves up for success. Mapping the product portfolio, rotating teams, and fostering a culture of innovation are key strategies to ensure a balanced and effective approach to product development. With future-focused teams at the helm, backed up by our Product Strategy course, organizations can drive continuous improvement, stay ahead of the competition, and deliver exceptional digital experiences to their customers.
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